KENNESAW, Ga. | Jun 30, 2020
When Amazon selected Kennesaw State University alumnus Alejandro Cano to be part of the team opening a new fulfillment center, Cano was prepared to have his leadership and organizational skills tested. What he was not initially prepared for, however, was taking on this task during a global pandemic.
Amazon launched its Bessemer, Ala. fulfillment center in March just as COVID-19 began spreading across the United States, which meant the new facility had to adjust to an unexpected surge in demand alongside strict new health and safety guidelines. As the center’s area manager, Cano has been instrumental in helping the company meet these goals.
Cano, who graduated from the Michael J. Coles College of Business in December 2018 with a degree in international business, is a front-line supervisor managing the activities of between 50-100 people on the floor at any time. While his chief responsibility is to ensure staff process orders accurately and efficiently, the pandemic has also brought additional concerns to the forefront.
“My number one goal is to keep people safe and secure in this facility,” he said. “Our system has a lot of moving parts, and some people have to move around quite a lot to keep our process efficient. We’re dedicated to making sure we fulfill our customers’ orders while minimizing risk as much as possible.”
The most significant change to Amazon’s standard procedures that Cano has helped implement is adjusting the fulfillment process so that team members maintain a constant 6 feet of social distance.
Cano’s role as area manager is his first professional leadership role, one that he credits to Amazon’s leadership training and Coles College for preparing him.
The Conyers native transferred from Valdosta State University to Kennesaw State halfway through his college career in order to be closer to global businesses. Cano, who is the son of Colombian immigrants, has a passion for learning about other cultures and was confident he could turn that into a successful career.
“I’ve always wanted to work in a global context and immerse myself in global cultures,” he said. “There are different types of leadership styles and ways to conduct businesses across the world. Coles College has taught me that. You have to know how to spot the differences. I found that very fascinating as I went through my courses.”
Some of his most memorable experiences at Kennesaw State were studying advertising and culture on an education abroad experience to Ireland and learning about the importance of strong leadership from faculty like management lecturer Paul Rieman.
“Alejandro understood the importance of servant leadership – putting your people first – and of both believing in and communicating the guiding mission of what you have set out to accomplish,” Rieman said. “As a rising young leader, this will serve him well.”
Cano also developed his leadership skills as a member of organizations like the Student Government Association, where he served as head of the Judicial Committee, and the Sigma Nu Fraternity, where he held the role of social chair.
After graduating, Cano took advantage of several Kennesaw State resources to jumpstart his career. Using the Handshake job recruitment platform maintained by the Office of Career Planning and Development, he applied to an open position at Amazon.
“I was already out of Kennesaw State when I went through Handshake and found that role,” he said. “It’s the last job board I thought I’d go to, but I hugely recommend Handshake for any students or alumni looking for a job.”
When he got the call from Amazon, he reached out to Diane Fennig, his career coach in the Hughes Leadership and Career Program, for help preparing.
“He really wanted a shot with this recruitment and wanted to be overprepared for his success,” Fennig said. “We discussed his career story, his unique value with his Spanish language skills, and his understanding and appreciation of diversity and inclusion from his International Business studies.”
When he was hired in January 2020, Cano began a training program with Amazon that helped him further develop his leadership skills. He spent a week at the Amazon Southeast Headquarters in Nashville and seven weeks at a fulfillment center in Orlando.
“It was constant leadership training,” Cano said. “They spent seven weeks teaching you how to handle specific HR and safety situations. For the sake of risk, it’s very important for managers to have experience as a leader. Amazon spends a lot of time teaching people straight out of college to learn it.”
These experiences have been vital since Cano assumed his role at the fledgling Bessemer Fulfillment Center. As consumers make more purchases online during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cano said the volume at most fulfillment centers now mirrors that of the holiday shopping season. The increased activity and the need for social distancing means he has had to get creative when thinking about improving efficiency.
He recently solved an issue with errors that caused packages to be kicked out of the fulfillment process before they received shipping labels. Because stopping everything to research these errors can be time-consuming and negatively impact efficiency, Cano devised a system where dedicated team members resolve them.
“These boxes had no home and were being placed to the side,” he said. “We needed to declutter that. I was able to go to each station and properly label what was causing the errors. So now we have someone who comes during each rotation to figure out where each box’s home is.”
While Cano admits he was apprehensive at first with assuming a leadership role so early in his career, he said his first five months at Amazon – coupled with his experiences at the Coles College – has proven that he is up to the challenge.
He hopes to have a long career at Amazon. His next goal is to become an operations manager running an entire department within the next three years and ultimately assume a global role in the organization.
“Amazon is 100 percent about developing its own people to fill these roles,” Cano said. “They look at key strengths and key goals that you have. They want to see that you are willing to grow with them in the long run.”
– Patrick Harbin
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